Brake pads have had a hell of a journey since their inception in the 1950s. As we weren’t aware of the health risks at the time, they were initially made of asbestos, which sounds crazy, but its durability and heat resistance made it a seemingly perfect material.
From that hazardous misstep, we moved on to NAO (synthetic/organic) pads made of materials such as glass, rubber, and kevlar, and then on to semi and full-metallic pads.
These are all functional designs, significantly improved upon those of the past, but with the advent of ceramic pads, are we witnessing the next evolutionary step in braking technology?
What Are Ceramic Pads
Ceramic pads are made from a composite of porcelain and clay adhered to copper filaments and fibers. While they do make quite a bit of noise, most of it is outside of frequencies audible to humans, so they’re considered a whisper-quiet brake type.
They’re also known for a firmer more responsive brake pedal due to their high coefficient of friction, and they shed exceedingly small amounts of brake dust.
Sometimes referred to as friction dust or simply, dust, brake dust is the shavings and carbon residue that grind loose from your brake pads and rotors.
You’ll find buildups of this debris in the recesses of your rims, but some will also pass into the air and can cause serious health problems to those overexposed to it.
How Do Ceramic Pads Compare to Others
Let’s make some direct comparisons to examine just how big the leap to ceramic pads is and whether it’s worth your time, money, and effort to upgrade.
Synthetic pads have two main highly sought after qualities. One is that they’re insanely quiet, which is fantastic. No one wants noisy brakes. Their other boon is that their softer composition is very forgiving on brake rotors.
Unfortunately, there are also two major problems to be considered when it comes to synthetic designs. Firstly, they create a hell of a lot of dust, which is an issue in and of itself, but merely a symptom of their major shortcoming: a lack of durability. The fact that they’re so soft means they wear down quite quickly, giving them a comparatively short service life.
As we’ve already discussed, ceramic pads are incredibly quiet, making little to no audible noise when you hit the brakes, and they’re incredibly gentle on your rotors too, shedding very little dust. So, are ceramic brake pads better than synthetics/organics?
Yes, undoubtedly so. Their wear-resistant qualities and silent performance make them a much more impressive prospect. In addition, they’re generally considered to be more reliable in extreme temperatures and challenging driving conditions.
Semi-metallic brake pads are the most commonly used in modern vehicle manufacturing. They’re made of a combination of synthetic materials and metal flakes (usually copper, iron, or steel).
They solve the durability problem exhibited by softer brake pads, but in doing so, they put a strain on your rotors and drums, leading to a fair amount of dust.
They’re also much louder than synthetics, often squealing or whining as they begin to wear, and they’re not quite as grippy either, requiring a greater amount of actuating force to build stopping power. That said, they can handle the widest range of temperatures and driving conditions.
Ceramics are much quieter, grippier, and way more rotor-friendly than semi-metals, and they last just as long as well, so ceramic seems like the way to go.
You won’t have to worry too much about full-metallic pads as they’re only really used for track cars.
Commonly made out of carbon steel or aluminum, they’re the hardiest of all the brake pads, but they’re a heavy burden on rotors and drums, and they can be awfully loud once they fall into disrepair.
Moreover, they require the largest amount of actuating force to reach sufficient braking torque.
Ceramics won’t outlive these metal monsters or beat them on the track, but for day to day use such as commuting, shopping, and traveling, they’re still the more impressive design.
Are There Any Down Sides to Ceramic Brake Pads?
They sound like pretty flawless bits of gear, don’t they? They certainly are impressive in their design and performance, seemingly combining redeeming features of otherwise flawed materials to make one super brake pad.
However, there is one particular aspect of ceramic brake pads that lets them down.
Despite copper’s fantastic thermal conductivity, ceramic pads retain heat for longer than any other brake pad material, which after a while can warp your disks, rotors, or both.
Warped braking systems lead to a strong juddering motion as you depress the pedal which can be both annoying and dangerous.
Ceramic brake pads are also far more grueling and expensive to manufacture due to their advanced material compounds, and consequently, they’re more expensive to buy.
Should You Install Ceramic Brake Pads on Your Car?
Even if you’ve decided that ceramic pads are generally the best of the bunch, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right for you and your car, as friction materials used to make brake pads are employed for singular applications.
Let’s discuss a few of the factors you should consider before settling on some new pads.
Every car is designed with specific components in mind, so it may be that switching up to ceramics will cause some compatibility issues.
Before you purchase any brake pads, make sure you consult your car’s manufacturer. It may even be that they sell their own signature ceramics especially for use on their vehicles.
Car Type and Driving Style
Whether striking out for some high-quality ceramics is a good idea is also dependent on the type of car you drive and how you drive it.
For instance, if you drive a rather high-performance sports car or 4×4, semi-metallic brake pads may actually be preferable due to their advanced heat dissipation.
If you don’t drive all that often and live in a fairly stable climate, you might as well save some money and stick with organic pads. If your driving isn’t demanding, you don’t need the advanced performance ceramic pads bring to the table.
If you have a more practical mid-range car and commute daily to get to work, you stand to benefit the most from ceramic brake pads. They’ll give you an extremely smooth and quiet ride, and they’re responsive enough to navigate the stop-start world of rush hour traffic with ease.
Industries that work with copper are responsible for causing irreparable damage to marine life.
Some states are even banning the use of any amount of copper beyond truly trace amounts.
All things considered, ceramic brake pads are an ingenious design, but they’re not perfect and may not be suitable for your driving life. They’re super quiet, durable, and shed barely any dust, but their poor heat diffusion may be a deal-breaker for some.
If you currently have synthetic/organic brake pads and they’re on the way out, ceramics might be a worthwhile upgrade, but if you already have a decent set of semi-metallic pads, ceramics might be more money and hassle than they’re worth.